What Does It Mean To Live In A ‘Post-Truth’ Culture?

Donald Trump was elected President of the United States in 2016. Along with his Twitter feed, a number of new words entered mainstream discourse: ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’, and ‘post-truth’.

In fact, the Oxford English Dictionaries selected ‘post-truth’ as 2016’s Word of the Year.

Christian author Abdu Murray picks up on this ‘post-truth’ turning point in his book Saving Truth: Finding Meaning & Clarity in a Post-Truth World. He writes:

The Oxford Dictionaries annually select a word that captures the culture’s current mood and preoccupations. And post-truth does exactly that. According to Oxford Dictionaries, post-truth means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”…It’s hard to think of a word better suited to the spirit of our age than “post-truth”. ’ [1]

In the post-truth mindset, your feelings don’t care about the facts. And it’s only your feelings that matter.

Let’s now look deeper into what ‘post-truth’ means.

1) There Are 2 Types of ‘Post-Truth’

A ‘soft’ type and a ‘hard’ type.

There are two related but distinct types of ‘post-truth’.

The first is a ‘soft’ type of post-truth: where we may acknowledge that truth exists – or certain things are true – but we don’t care about the truth if it gets in the way of our personal preferences. [2]

The second is a ‘hard’ type of post-truth: where we are willing to propagate blatant falsehoods, knowing they’re false, because doing so serves a higher political or social agenda. [3]

Both the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ types of post-truth are damaging. And both are becoming more pervasive.

But which type of ‘post-truth’ is more dangerous?

2) The ‘Soft’ Type of Post Truth is More Dangerous

It faces truth head on, and says ‘truth’ doesn’t matter.

The secular philosophy of post-modernism declares that ‘there is no such thing as objective truth – you have your truth, and I have mine’. (You’ve probably heard people say this).

Yet, this view is self-defeating and unliveable.

Why?

Because any denial of objective truth must itself be objectively true if it is to be meaningful.

And so, postmodernism has failed to influence the masses because it is inherently incoherent.

But soft post-truth mindset is much more dangerous. As Murray points out:

‘Where postmodernism failed because it was inherently incoherent, the post-truth mindset may succeed because it is not. It faces the problem of truth head-on. Unlike postmodernism, the post-truth mindset acknowledges objective truth, but subordinates it to preferences.’

He continues:

‘That’s dangerous, as logic and evidence don’t have the same influence over the post-truth mindset as they had over the postmodern. In a post-truth age, if the evidence fits our preferences and opinions, then all is well and good. If it doesn’t, then the evidence is deemed inadmissible or offensive, with offense being a kind of solvent against otherwise sound arguments.’ [4]

We see this in the area of ‘identity’. For increasing numbers of people in the West today, a person’s gender is not determined not by the fact of their biology, but by their inner feelings. That is a classic post-truth mindset.

But the post-truth mindset affects more than gender: it even affects science.

3) The Post-Truth Mindset Affects Even Science

Many secular-minded people tell us that science is utterly objective – that what science shows to be true is the truth – and must not be questioned (think about how anyone who questions popular views of climate science is treated).

And yet, scientists themselves are not immune to the post-truth mindset.

As Murray explains:

‘In January 2016, just as the post-truth year began, [science writer] Adam Hoffman reported the surprising results of several studies that concluded the findings of certain sciences are difficult to reproduce. One study asserted the findings in fewer than half of psychology studies printed in prestigious journals could be reproduced. Stanford University’s John Ioannidis went so far as to say that across many scientific disciplines, “It can be proven that most claimed research findings are false.” Putting an alarming number to the problem, Ioannidis says, “We are getting millions of papers that go nowhere.”’ [5]

And the reason for these results?

‘In the cutthroat world of academia, the primary measure of success is the number of studies a researcher gets in prestigious journals. As a result, scientists are under pressure to spend the majority of their time obtaining the kinds of breakthrough results that are most likely to get published.’ [6]

And so, the truth is twisted for the sake of another goal. No area is immune to post-truth infection.

4) The Post-Truth Mindset Affects Where We Get Our News From

We’re increasingly looking to news sources that agree with what we already believe, rather than telling what actually is true.

In a (Left-leaning) Op-Ed piece for the LA Times entitled ‘The Left Has A Post-Truth Problem Too: It’s Called Comedy’, author and columnist Stephen Marche laments that so many Americans get their news not from time-tested news sources, but from comedy and satire shows.

Facts are distorted to make people of a left-leaning persuasion laugh, which is fine in and of itself.

But when people look at these shows and get their news from it (without caring about the artistic licence behind such ‘news’), they are getting a distorted view of the world. According to Marche, these shows are why “the Left has a post-truth problem, too.”

Here in Australia, similar things could be said of shows like The Project, where so many younger people get their news. Yes, it’s clever and entertaining: but often the casualty of such entertainment is often the truth.

Either way, we’re all inherently slanted in the way we view reality – that’s part of being human. But in a post-truth culture, we’re more comfortable getting our news solely from sources that share our bias.

That’s a post-truth mindset.

5) The Post-Truth Seed Was Planted In the Garden of Eden.

But it’s flowering in our age

The post-truth mindset is not new. Despite the fact that ‘post-truth’ is a recent word, the practice of subordinating truth to feeling is ancient.

As Murray explains:

‘Biblically speaking, the post-truth mindset flowering today originally germinated in a lush garden long ago. God gave Adam and Eve freedom in Eden so that they could enjoy a relationship with Him – the very reason for which they were created. They had but one restriction: they could not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they did so, they would become aware of evil, which would lead to a desire not just to know good and evil, but to determine good and evil.’

He continues:

‘Satan used our innate human preference to exert out own sovereignty to tempt Adam and Eve away from the communion with God we were created for and toward autonomy apart from God…What God said didn’t matter any more. Their desires and feelings usurped the truth. This seed of the post-truth mindset has bloomed in our day.’ [7]

Post-truth has now blossomed into what Murray calls the ‘Culture of Confusion’. The answers to life’s questions no longer need to correspond to reality. They need only cater to our desires. Whether it’s your identity, your religion, your politics – truth no longer holds sway across our culture the way it once did.

6) How the Post-Truth mindset affects Churches

Christians are not immune from the post-truth mindset.

Murray contends that there are two ways that Churches can be affected by the post-truth mindset:

‘On one hand, Christians have compromised the clarity of Scripture for the sake of acceptance and to avoid conflict.’ [8]

At a time when ‘tolerance’ is a chief virtue in western culture, many Christians want to appear tolerant and likeable. We don’t like playing the villain in our culture’s narrative.

And so, in our post-truth world, we can elevate our preferences to be liked and feel accepted, over the truth of God’s word. We want to be seen as the good guys. Even if it means watering down what the Bible says on a range of topics (truth, sexuality, hell etc).

But there’s another way that churches are affected by a post-truth mindset. Murray continues:

‘On the other hand, Christians have indulged the cultural practice of vilifying those with whom they disagree… Too often, Christians conveniently forget the fact that like everyone else, they need a Saviour… Worse yet, Christians may make churches so unwelcoming that they repel the very people who could benefit from what Jesus has to offer.’ [9]

Whether it’s watering down the truth of God’s word or vilifying His image-bearers, Christians can also be affected by the post-truth mindset.

7) The Gospel is the Answer to the Post-Truth Mindset

In a culture confused about truth, Jesus’ words pierce through the fog of confusion:

‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’
~ John 8:32, 36

Murray comments:

‘In Jesus Christ, we have both the truth who satisfies our quest and the personality who satisfies our need for connection. He is the Truth our minds seek and the person our hearts embrace. He validates facts and personal preferences without sacrificing either. His words expose the facts of our sin. The fact of His sacrifice demonstrates His unbounded love for us. And the fact of His resurrection provides us with the joy of knowing our desires can be fulfilled.’

He concludes:

‘There they are: joy and knowledge, feeling and fact, coupled together. Putting it all together is how we go about saving truth.’ [10]

People’s feelings may trump facts. The value of ‘truth’ may be less than it once was. But the Truth remains for anyone with the eyes to see it. And a Day is coming when every eye will see the Truth in all His glory – no matter what they feel.


[1] Abdu Murray, Saving Truth: Finding Meaning And Clarity In a Post-Truth World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 13.

[2] Murray, Saving Truth, 13.

[3] Murray, Saving Truth,13-14.

[4] Murray, Saving Truth,14.

[5] Murray, Saving Truth, 16-17.

[6] Murray, Saving Truth, 16-17.

[7] Murray, Saving Truth, 19-20.

[8] Murray, Saving Truth, 31.

[9] Murray, Saving Truth, 33.

___

Originally published at AkosBalogh.com.
Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash.

By |2019-11-11T22:29:33+11:00November 14th, 2019|Authors, Identity Politics, World|1 Comment

About the Author:

Akos Balogh is the CEO of The Gospel Coalition Australia. He is married to Sarah, with three children. Akos was born in Budapest, and was blessed to be able to come to Australia as a refugee in 1981. He came to faith in late high school, through the influence of friends, family, and school Scripture. He went on to study Aerospace Engineering at UNSW, before working in the RAAF for five years. After completing his B. Div. from Moore Theological college, he then had the joy of serving with AFES for six years, at Southern Cross University in Lismore. Akos serves an elder at Southern Cross Presbyterian Church, also in Lismore, and blogs weekly at akosbalogh.com. You can reach him on twitter via @akosbaloghcom.

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